(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) It was simple curiosity in 1999 that saw an impressionable 18-year-old Khaled* transition from occasional drug user to full-blown addict.
"I was hanging around with a group of young guys who were experimenting a lot with drugs," the now 33-year-old recovering addict tells Khaleej Times. Speaking candidly about his battle with addiction, it was that external pressure from his peers which soon saw Khaled's drug use spiral out of control. Self-diagnose an addiction 1 -Is there a dramatic change in your personality following drug intake? Many people take drugs to feel pleasure or escape pain. People who are drug-dependent usually see a big change in personality. 2 -Do you have difficulty staying off drugs for more than a few days? If you experience withdrawal symptoms soon after the conclu-sion of drug intake, this is a big sign of drug-dependency. 3 - Have your drug-taking habits increased over time? If you feel the need to increase your dosage each time to feel the 'benefit' of a drug, this is a sign of drug-dependency. With hashish taking a back seat, Class A drugs quickly took precedence over his life. And with his pick of narcotics all within easy reach, he says the environment he was living in had a lot to answer for. "The neighbourhood I was living in definitely had a bad influence on me." But following the intervention of Ownak - the region's first aftercare centre for drug addicts - Khaled is now three months drug-free following a 17-year addiction. A dark path After being sent to prison in the early 2000s, Khaled's jail-term did little to deter him from drugs, and his usage increased dramatically. "There was a time where I couldn't go two days without taking something," he says. After another jail-term in 2005 and a release in 2006, Khaled's family stepped in to try and deal with the escalating issue. They thought marriage was the answer. "In 2008 my family tried to marry me off because they thought it would make the situation better." But it made it worse, he says. "When I got married, I was not mature enough mentally. It was too much responsibility so I increased my drug use." After being sent back to prison again shortly after his wedding, he missed the birth of his only child - a moment he admits he "severely regrets". It was the handing down of a four-year jail sentence in 2011, which initiated an even darker period in his life. "I served two years of this sentence, during which my father died." And the second blow came in the form of a letter from his wife demanding a divorce. Floored by the double setback, Khaled says he still couldn't admit to himself that he had an addiction. "I was aware my actions had caused this turmoil but I still thought my drug use was just normal behaviour. I was in denial." Ownak programmes: > Relapse prevention > Skills development > Awareness > Care and protection > 12-steps Programme > Skills development programmes (Time mgt., Anger mgt., Communination skills, Financial Mgt.) > Individual session and case study > Psychological and social follow-up > Drug misuse rehabilitation Turning point It was his most recent prison sentencing in 2015 that brought about real change in Khaled's life. After two cases were brought against him - one for drug offences and one for a violent crime - he received a one-year jail-term. But following his release in February this year, Khaled quickly fell back into his old ways. Just two weeks after being released from prison, police raided his home, however he managed to evade arrest by fleeing. But after 17 years of drug abuse and trouble with the law, it was the advice of a friend and former addict that finally brought his addiction to a head. "This man had been drug-free for 30 years and his advice really touched me. He advised me to call the police, turn myself in and get treatment." Initially Khaled refused, admitting he feared the consequences. So the friend told him his only alternative was to call Ownak. "This centre allows people like Khaled to call and seek help for their addiction without the threat of prosecution," Community Development Authority (CDA) social care expert, Dr Hussain Al Maseeh told Khaleej Times. The next morning, Khaled made the call and that same day he was received by a social worker at the centre. After an extensive review, Khaled was immediately transferred to a two-week detox program at Al Amal Psychiatric Hospital in Dubai. "I could say this was the first time I realised I had a problem," he says. Admitting the first few days of detox were rough due to "sleeplessness, nightmares and stress", he was slowly tapered off the withdrawal symptoms with the intervention of medication. Today, Khaled has full custody of his seven-year-old daughter and participates in regular aftercare sessions. "The 12-step programme has really helped me and I really enjoy the morning exercise and meditation classes. It helps me cope better." And though he is focusing on "the now", he says he is hopeful for the future following his recent enrolment in a Back to School programme to obtain the high school diploma he never got. For other addicts struggling to come to terms with their addiction, Khaled has one clear message. "My life would have ended up one of two ways without this intervention from Ownak. Either in prison, or six feet under. If you have a problem, seek help and don't do it alone." (*full name withheld for anonymity) Age of drug users getting lower in world and UAE A recent report from the United Nations (UN) has indicated that the age of initial drug use is getting lower - and this trend is being reflected in the UAE. "Before, we'd usually only treat people in their early twenties or late teens for drug-related issues. But now we're seeing children of Middle School age dabbling in these illegal substances," Dr Hussain Al Maseeh, social care expert at the Community Development Authority (CDA) told Khaleej Times. Most are doing it for "experimental purposes" he said, but research carried out at Rashid Hospital shows that a significant factor leading to addiction here is the absence of a father. "This has proven to be a big cause of addiction for boys under the age of 14." Speaking on the risk factors associated with early onset drug abuse, Dr Al Maseeh said "the earlier the drug use, the higher the risk of addiction". "Drugs are big business globally. Drug dealers have hypothesised that if they get younger generations hooked on a particular product they ultimately become a long-term customer. That is why they prey on young teens." According to CDA figures from 2014, there are more than 400 young individuals struggling with drug abuse in Dubai. But with the current trend, this number could rise by more than a third (33.8 per cent), to 561 by 2022. And in the UAE, he said drug use among women is also increasing. Closing the gaps Though there is a lot of action on the government and public level to tackle drug addiction in the UAE, certain gaps still need to be addressed. "More recognition is needed for a comprehensive approach to dealing with addiction in Dubai," Dr Al Maseeh said At present, Rashid Hospital and Al Amal Hospital in Dubai are the only facilities providing treatment and rehabilitation to drug addicts. "When services are limited, it means specialists are not available. The number of specialists here is low compared to the need," he said. But he emphasised that any approach to addiction has to be addressed through prevention methods, adding that "increased awareness and education programmes are vital." Solving the issue To aid recovery, addicts need to go through a three-phase programme - detoxification (treatment), rehabilitation and aftercare. An approach which has to be "multifaceted", Dr Al Maseeh said. "We have to look at the family, the individual's personality, and the community they live in." Ownak, which currently has 150 registered clients, three of whom are women - provides phase three of this three-step process. But it is aftercare that is not given "due attention" here. "You cannot let down your guard as an addict, so relapse prevention is so important and always focuses on who, what and where. Who you should not be with, what you should avoid and where you shouldn't go." Depending on the individual it can take anything from three to six months to be rehabilitated. "But it is important to note that Ownak offers a life-long service to recovering addicts." Praising the staff of Ownak for the "round-the-clock" work they do, Dr Maseeh said each of them try to ensure each client limits his/her risk of falling back into the "drug-dependency cycle." But with addiction this relapse is always a risk, he said. Kelly Clarke Originally from the UK, Kelly Clarke joined Khaleej Times in November 2012 as a reporter. She has a keen interest in humanitarian issues and loves to champion the efforts of local residents, companies in offering aid and development assistance to both local and region-wide causes. She works mainly within the healthcare beat but regularly produces human interest features. In her spare to she loves to travel and regularly volunteers at Riding for the Disabled in Dubai. Kelly received her BA Honours in Journalism from Middlesex University, UK in 2008. Before joining Khaleej Times she worked as a Supervising Editor for three Healthcare titles in London. KellyAnn_Clarke